Here’s hoping the Michael J Fox Show is awesome

Induction suggests that it’s difficult to anticipate the quality of a TV show or movie based on the quality of the trailer (Watchmen, I am looking directly at you). So I’ll hedge what I say here to this: the trailer for the new pilot The Michael J Fox Show looks pretty awesome.

By all accounts it’s a show that will center around a disabled character (Mike Henry) portrayed by a disabled actor (Michael J Fox). As far as I know, that’s a first – at least on a mainstream US network. Of course, it’s unlikely that a show like this would be possible if Fox hadn’t been famous before he became disabled. But still, it’s a step in the right direction – and might pave the way for other, more varied representations of disability in TV and film. (A girl can dream, yeah?)

And from the looks of it, the show seems to be aiming for a great tone – one that laughs openly at ‘tragic overcomer’ tropes and embraces the everyday ups, downs, humor, and general ridiculousness that can come with being disabled. Here’s hoping it’s awesome. At the very least, I like the trailer.

9 thoughts on “Here’s hoping the Michael J Fox Show is awesome

  1. Interesting. It made me recall Geri Jewell, who was (it seems) the first regular character on TV to both be and portray a disabled person, on “The Facts of Life”.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geri_Jewell
    (I guess that these days more people might know her from her time on “Deadwood”, but I haven’t really watched much of that show.)

  2. The series Life Goes On, from the early 1990s, was centered around a character who had Down’s Syndrome played by an actor who also did.

    The series Reasonable Doubts, also from the early 1990s, was centered around Marlee Matlin’s great deaf prosecutor character.

    Sesame Street’s deaf “Linda the Librarian” became a recurring character in the early 1970s, although the show didn’t center around her.

    The earliest instance I can think of an important regular character on a TV series – in this case, the principal antagonist – being both disabled and portrayed by a disabled person is Loveless on The Wild Wild West, played by the late Michael Dunn (achondroplasia) in the mid-1960s.

  3. Nemo, we’re using ‘centered around’ differently. The shows you mention are all cases in which a disabled character is part of an ensemble cast, but the show can’t really be said to be a show about that character, and that character is not the primary focus of the narrative. I wouldn’t describe those as shows which are centered around disabled characters.

    To my knowledge, this is the first instance in which a disabled actor portraying a disabled character is unequivocally *the star* of a mainstream US TV show. That is the point I was trying to make.

  4. This looks promising, indeed! I just wanted to point out that the NBC trailer is not captioned, this despite the (US) 21st Century Communications and Accessibility Act. Meaning that it should be captioned! You can join me in pointing this out to NBC by writing them at closedcaptioning@nbc.com Just to be clear: I don’t doubt that the Michael J. Fox show will be captioned, my annoyance is focused on the uncaptioned trailer.

    On another note, this discussion made me think of Lou Ferrigno’s role in The Incredible Hulk, a case of a disabled television actor with a starring role who portrayed a character who was (seemingly?) not disabled. I imagine there are other disabled actors who “passed” as nondisabled or at least portrayed nondisabled roles, but at the moment I’m unable to think of any.

  5. I’m so sorry Teresa – I just assumed the trailer would be captioned!

    Perplexingly, though, I’ve just done a quick search and found another version (the NBC HD version) of the same trailer that *is* captioned. Anyway, I’ve replaced the trailer in the post with the captioned version.

  6. Great call on Lou Ferrigno!
    And, I don’t know, was The Hulk disabled, or not? Banner had a biochemical condition that he definitely wanted to be rid of. Obviously, it gave him some extraordinary power and incapacitated him in certain ways. But Ferrigno didn’t play that half of the person(ality), and Hulk presumably didn’t think of himself as disabled in any way.
    I’m probably botching this. I know there are posters and commenters here who know a lot about both the philosophy of disability and comic books — any insight?

  7. Magical Ersatz, yeah, one would think this *would* be captioned! :-) Thanks a ton for locating and uploading the captioned version.

    Luke, those are excellent questions! I, too, will eagerly await responses…

  8. That’s interesting about Ferrigno- I didn’t know it at all, despite being, in my youth, a big fan of the Hulk TV show. (For me, the thing I always remember about Ferrigno is a little interview from a magazine where he talked about how, when he was body-building, he was always hungry, and ate huge amounts of food- 7 to 8 meals a day, up to 8000 calories. I remember him once saying he’d regularly eat several whole chickens a day, just not the skin.) It’s also interesting that he notes his hearing loss as an inspiration for him in several interviews.)

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